LET’S CELEBRATE: Double the fun at care home birthday bash

Mary Edney in her Land Army uniform
Mary Edney in her Land Army uniform
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Not one, but two residents at Southlands Nursing Home in Havant had cause to celebrate earlier this month.

Born on the same day with five years between them, May Edney, 105, and Gladys Winkworth, 100, enjoyed their respective milestone birthdays together with cake and good company on November 13.

Gladys Winkworth in her youth

Gladys Winkworth in her youth

‘Oh, it was lovely,’ says Gladys of her busy centenary.

‘I had two parties – one at my daughter’s house with all the relatives and children and grandchildren, and then we had a lovely party here.’

‘Yes, it was a very nice day,’ 105-year-old May agrees.

As the middle child of six, Gladys Osborne was born in the Mile End area of Portsmouth while May Corner, the youngest of three girls, is originally from Gillingham in Kent.

I liked being a land girl, I liked being outside, I still do

May Edney

One of many things that they have in common is that their respective fathers both served in the Royal Navy.

May’s father was a chief engineer on board a destroyer which struck a mine in the English Channel when May was just four years old.

She fondly remembers walks along the South Downs and a distinctly musical upbringing.

‘My mother looked after us,’ says May. ‘She gave us a happy childhood. We all learned to play the piano, but my middle sister and I also learned the violin. I had a go at the recorder too, I think.’

‘I can remember the lamplighters coming down the streets, and the rag-and-bone man and the cockles and winkles on Sunday,’ Gladys reflects on her childhood, before getting a job in domestic service at the age of 14.

‘Not many people can say that they worked for Professor Newberry,’ she hints. Gladys is, of course, making reference to Percy Newberry, who famously served on the Tutankhamun excavation team.

She even says that she handled some of the items from the excavation while working as a maid at Professor Newberry’s home in Surrey.

May was ‘quite mature’ when she got her first job in the Women’s Land Army, taking on agricultural duties when men were called up to the military.

‘I liked being a land girl, I liked being outside, I still do,’ she says before rather remarkably breaking into song, singing the traditional folk number The Farmer’s Boy.

May’s singing is often heard throughout Southlands, much to the residents’ and staff’s delight.

After meeting him through a mutual friend, Gladys married Gordon Winkworth when she was 18.

They went on to have two daughters, Thelma and Brenda, and were re-housed in a prefab home on the outskirts of Havant after Gladys was bombed out of her Fratton home during the Second World War.

‘It was strange because as a child I lived in Gordon Road,’ she remarks before adding that she worked on Hascombe Road, Godalming at the time, which would go on to become the site of Winkworth Arboretum.

‘I suppose I had a semi-rural upbringing,’ says daughter Thelma Clay, who still lives in Havant. ‘Mum was always at home, so it was a very nice and traditional upbringing.’

Gladys is now a grandmother to three and a great-grandmother to five, while May just has her two children, Elizabeth and Phillip. She met her husband Ralph Edney when she was working on a farm in Kent, and married him in 1940.

As well as being the outdoor type, May has always been a bit of a thrill seeker, and rode her motorbike well into her eighties. She even dressed up and got on her bike for the Hayling Carnival when she was in her mid-80s.

‘I was a witch,’ May laughs. ‘I had a broomstick on the back and a velvet black cat!’

Having lived at Southlands for the last 18 months, Gladys now spends a lot of her time embracing her crafty side through a multitude of activities.

‘I’ve always loved my crafts,’ smiles Gladys, who is particularly fond of machine knitting. ‘As long as I’ve got something to do, I’m quite happy.’

Thelma adds: ‘The limit is what she’s physically able to do.

‘She can’t do as much as she would like to, but she is very fit and able at the moment.’

May is similarly into her crafts, as well as entertaining fellow residents with her singing. However, when it came to blowing the candles out on the giant birthday cake she shared with Gladys, it was the residents who returned the favour with a rendition of Happy Birthday.

‘I tried to keep the party as hush-hush as I could,’ says Southlands’ activities coordinator, Tina Davies. ‘I think that they’re absolutely amazing. When you listen to both of them, they’ve both had such a brilliant life, and they both made all their own clothes and they’re both hard workers.

‘It does make you think that this generation had a very hard life, but they’ve both got a fantastic sense of humour and I find that they don’t take anything for granted.’

‘I feel a bit worn out,’ says May on turning 105. ‘I suppose good health has kept me going. Fresh air and exercise, too.’

‘I don’t feel any different,’ adds Gladys. ‘It’s important to keep going, don’t give up and be tolerant.

‘I’m just happy as I go along, as long as I’m doing something, and I’ve made lots of friends.’